It’s a big deal when an analyst as respected as Credit Suisse’s Stefan Anninger slashes his pay TV subscription forecast for 2012 to a 200,000 loss from a 250,000 gain, which is what he did this morning. But the rationale behind his decision is even more noteworthy: He cites a Credit Suisse-commissioned survey that found evidence of a youthful revolt against the pricey video packages. Lots of young adults aren’t cutting the cord; they never subscribe in the first place. Anninger says that while the evidence is still mostly anecdotal, “we are confident that a relationship exists” between high pay TV prices and declining subscriptions. And the growing group of “cord nevers” (as opposed to “cord cutters”) is “the biggest challenge pay TV will face over the next 10 years” after piracy and soaring programming costs — although “it does not feel like the industry is yet willing to admit that reality.” Execs still accept the conventional wisdom that the recent decline in pay TV subs is due to the weak economy. Once things improve, they believe, then young people will jump on the pay TV bandwagon — especially when they have kids. But Anninger says things could play out differently: These young adults and their children will have grown up “in a world in which the Internet (at least from a technological perspective) was capable of delivering a reasonably satisfying video experience” for free, or a lot less than a cable or satellite TV subscription. They’re content to watch shows on small screens, at less than high-definition quality, and are just as happy to spend time with social media and video games as they are to watch a sitcom, drama, or reality program. Pay TV providers only have one real choice, Anninger says: They must offer consumers lower-priced choices, for example packages that include fewer channels than operators pack into their popular expanded basic services. The view that pay TV will regain its footing when the economy turns “is Pollyannaish.” Although Anninger still favors pay TV stocks, and says that the industry isn’t going to fall off a cliff in the next year or two, “ignoring the risks associated with cord-neverism, will not help to solve an issue that has the potential to become an enormous problem.”
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